The emerging future: Software as electricity

There has been rumblings about software as a service and Web 2.0 revolutionising the way people work with their computers and data but very little to really illustrate this point. Whilst the average person is comfortable with having their email and chat hosted by Google, Microsoft or Yahoo the idea of businesses trusting third parties with hosting their software and data is a foreign one.

Companies like Google, and now Zoho are out to change this attitude with a direct push at the business marketplace. You know an I.T. concept has momentum when it has its own conference, and now with the Office 2.0 Conference there is a showcase for business orientated, software as a service applications. TechCrunch has been doing a very good job covering the new applications released during this conference. Zoho seems very interesting from a software capability perspective although successfully marketing this service within the industry as it stands today will no doubt be difficult. However it is probably more likely that Zoho is concentrating on their application feature-set with an end-game of being purchased by a larger company (Yahoo, AOL). This larger company will then rebrand Zoho and use it to compete with Google's emerging online office suite and Microsoft Office Live.

Reasonate testing completed and a good quote

I have been taking a bit of a break after the successful completion of the Reasonate testing within the BBSc303 course. There's been a couple of interesting articles appear in my newsreader recently. The first has a good construction analogy for 'Web 2.0'.

"An analogy from the world of building construction perhaps clarifies the distinction. Web 1.0 was like building houses from cement, sand, crushed bricks and aluminium. You had to mix cement, bricks and sand together to make concrete, then use concrete to make the house. With newer Web 2.0 technologies you effectively have concrete, prefabricated walls, corrugated iron sheets, etc to build houses. So you can make more interesting and elaborate houses than before.

Many Web 2.0 building blocks are available as open-source software products. These products are, for the most part, free to use. Further, the source code (ie, the engineering blueprint) is usually available for developers to modify as needed. Since there is a huge variety of open source software (for example, SourceForge, a repository of open source software, has over 115000 projects), the programmer can mix and match the right tools and build a program very quickly (and cheaply.)

So, continuing our construction analogy, Web 2.0 programmers not only have ready-made concrete, but it is free ready-made concrete!"

Unfortunately there has been a lot of debate recently over the term 'Web 2.0', mainly caused by O'Reilly making moves to copyright the term because apparently it was Tim O'Reilly who originally coined it. This move certainly peeved a lot of people off who had considered the term more a definition of a genre/ideology rather than some new trademark to be monetised. Anyway in the future I'll be steering clear of using the term Web 2.0 just to avoid any controversy that will continue to plauge the term over the next six-twelve months.

About Reasonate

For the last few months I have been very busy developing and testing Reasonate within the BBSc303 ‘Digital Craft’ class at the VUW School of Architecture. The main purpose of the testing was to evaluate the adoption rate and usage trends of blogging and tagging within a simulated team design process. In concert with this goal the testing was also used to establish what sort of toolset design-orientated bloggers require, especially when operating within a structured environment of project groups, tutors (fellow students) and course coordinators (the lecturer, Mike Donn and myself).

Windows Live to host college email

I talked about Windows Live a while back and so news that 72 U.S. colleges will be using Windows Live for student email services seemed quite relevant. It makes sense financially for the colleges and from Microsoft's perspective it gets customers early before they have made a definite decision on who their email provider will be. No doubt Google and Yahoo will soon be following this same path with their mail services in an effort to build (Google) and maintain (Yahoo) their user-base.

The move is another vindication of the software as a service concept and will help bring some sanity to educational IT departments. Victoria University should adopt the same policy for student email and file storage. If not sponsored by Microsoft/Google/Yahoo they should at least scrap student email and file storage services in favour of Google/Microsoft/Yahoo email and personal USB keys. The savings whilst not huge would add up over time, plus I am in no doubt that the big players could provide a better level of service and featureset than what any over-stretched educational IT department could ever provide.

Software as a Service - myths destroyed

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to the Software as a Service concept. The basic idea behind this catch phrase is that rather than paying a lot of money up front for a piece of software and/or server combination you subscribe to the software online and have it hosted remotely. There's obviously a couple of concerns over such a model, firstly you have got to trust that these companies do not go out of business plus you have to be confident that your Internet connection (and theirs) will be working whenever you need the service. A lot of these myths have been put to rest as this Business Week article illustrates, but for hard-core (old school) network administrators the idea of out-sourcing essential software sends cold shivers down their spines.

S3 provides unlimited cheap online storage

It has been a while since I last posted, mainly because I have been very busy working on Reasonate, going to Japan and doing end of year taxes...

Anyway one thing that really blew my mind the other day was Amazon's new S3 service. On the surface it seems really simple, a basic web service that provides cheap online storage (US$0.15 per Gigabyte for storage per month). What is exciting is the ramifications, if somebody (like you or I) want to store a lot of information for ourselves or others online there is no need to invest in big servers and fat Internet connections to serve that data. It also means that by design your web applications will scale effortlessly at least in the sense of the data storage mechanism assuming Amazon's server farm is up to the task. I have signed up for an account and read through the documentation and some of the features are pretty nice (access control lists, time sensitive url's and a lot more). There has been very good things said about it on TechCrunch and other places, plus some criticisim for not supporting the very simple XML-RPC protocol (which would have been very nice to have in simple applications).

2.0 C&C tools and my experiences

There has been a few interesting articles about products that hope to assist in the process of communicating and collaborating (C&C). Tangler sets out to do this by providing a mechanism for grouping various discussion sources (blogs, instant messaging, mailing lists) into a single 'group' that can be easily searched, scanned and in turn discussed. It sounds like they aim to get around the problem of information dispersion, ie. an interesting blog here, a somewhat handy mailing list here. This could be really useful in certain arenas like open source where often I find myself going to several similar but different discussion venues (mailing lists, forums, blogs) in order to find the answer to a certain question. Unfortunately it would also seem like the potential for making money out of such a system is pretty low, not only because similar systems already exist but also because the 'value-add' is relatively small when put in the context of the web, search engines and the flexibility of RSS.

FireAnt: an iTunes competitor in the video space

FireAnt brings video, RSS and tagging together into a very tidy package used for automatically downloading video content onto your desktop or personal media player. It is interesting that people can construct their own 'channels' which are a series of different (or similar) shows and act like a mini-CNN, Discovery Channel or E!

Whilst Apple's iTunes video service it is still targeted at the 'pay per episode' model it would be nice to see a competitor offer something that worked with the concept of channels. We do not have the bandwidth or the iTunes video store in New Zealand but it would be nice to imagine a day where I could subscribe to and pay for mini-channels produced by people of my same interest group featuring both commercial content, videoblogs and adverts. For example I would gladly subscribe and pay for a channel that played the Simpsons, TWiT, Discovery Channel documentaries about space, the highlights of BBC World News and an episode of Lost. That would be a great night(s) television watching. Plus I would not mind the adverts as long as they related to me (ie nothing about retirement, womans products or toilet paper). Conventional broadcasting models do not allow for this but digital video based environments like what are evolving certainly do.

What is Web 2.0 again?

There is a lot of talk about Web 2.0, my paper to CAADRIA even mentioned it in the title. Whether its a fad or the next big thing is fairly uncertain but it does provide a nice general purpose container for a bunch of different read/write Web concepts like blogging, tagging, and RSS. Certainly there is a lot of hype around the whole thing but as a general theme for a bunch of technologies it is pretty strong.

What I do think it is achieving is the evolution of a far more conceptually and technologically richer Web space. The Web is no longer about hugely expensive and flashy billboards, tightly controlled portals or online stores with weird names. Sure all these things still exist but they are now taking second place to far more dynamic sites with their background and identity rooted firmly in the Web rather than being simply the extension of a conventional organisation's operations. Web 2.0 seems also to be more about empowering the individual to be able to do things like get their own 'stuff' online and track/search the Web in ways that make sense to them. MySpace,, Technorati and Flickr are all successful Web 2.0 sites that have these fundamental ideas at their core. Recently Apple announced iWeb which is the first 'traditional' application that attempts to blur the lines between the computer, the Web and your life.

Podcast interview with 37signals founder

This is loosely related to my posting a few days ago about Basecamp and 37signals. The Web 2.0 Show has put up an interview with the founder of 37signals and topics covered range from emerging technologies through to agile design methodologies and practices in place within the company. A fairly interesting little listen.